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Policy

House Science Committee Chair Pummeled Science Agencies

Funding: Texas Republican Lamar Smith launched investigations into NSF, EPA, and NOAA

by Andrea Widener
December 21, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 49

Smith
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Credit: Newscom
Credit: Newscom

COVER STORY

Science Committee Chair Pummeled Research Agencies

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) isn’t one to back down from a skirmish with the science community. In 2015, the chair of the House of Representatives Science, Space & Technology Committee has continued to investigate research and policy at several science agencies, despite pushback from science advocacy groups.

Earlier this year, Smith and the National Science Foundation came to a détente over his two-year-long investigation into several NSF grants—primarily social sciences and climate change research—that Smith found objectionable.

Smith also asked for changes in NSF’s peer review process, including forcing NSF employees to personally certify that any grant the agency gives is in the national interest. Science organizations feared that interference could take NSF away from its basic mission and deter scientists from pursuing research without a clear outcome.

NSF and Smith eventually overcame their stalemate when Director France Córdova conceded that NSF’s original charter was broad enough to cover the national interest. Even after they agreed, Smith introduced a bill to require that grants be in the national interest, but it was never taken up in the Senate.

Smith has targeted several other agencies at different times, including the Environmental Protection Agency and its water quality rules and science advisory process. But his biggest target is the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, whose researchers published a climate change paper in the journal Science that showed there was no pause in Earth’s rising temperatures. Smith says that paper was published for political rather than scientific reasons and has subpoenaed agency e-mails and documents.

NOAA’s leaders have said they will not turn over the documents. Science organizations fear doing so would deter scientists from doing research into important policy questions.

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